Lowell Blues: the words of Jack Kerouac
by Henry Ferrini

Intricate and sensual jazz, surreal chases of color and light, voices of poets, rivers and rays of sun and snowflakes imposed over delicate leaves and brick buildings: these are a few of the dreamy things sketched in "Lowell Blues," a 30-minute film of Jack Kerouac's words and homeland, by Henry Ferrini. The spontaneous collage of glances, which blend into each other--photographic, musical, and spoken-word--combine to make an escape, a trip, a visual and acoustic journey.


Jack Kerouac, poet and visionary often connected with the Beat Generation, was born in Centralville, near Lowell, Massachusetts, where Ferrini captures and clashes beauty and surprise in a flowing vignette of vignettes. Lowell, an old textile mill town formed by French-Canadian immigrants in the 1820s, has changed since the 1930s and 40s, when Kerouac played in its arms. Yet some places are timeless, and Ferrini elegantly preserves what is left, what is remembered, what is documented about Kerouac's youth.

Ferrini's photography is riff-like, sneaking in and out of corners and churches. Combined with the longing saxophone of Lee Konitz are voices coming from corridors, like the ghosts of Dr. Sax. Willie Alexander narrates the opening section of birth and reads excerpted poems. Robert Creeley reads from the "wrinkly tar" section. Johnny Depp about the Merrimack River, which flows like a sad sound and erupts over rocks in joy. Carolyn Cassady reads about Lowell neighborhoods and the library, Joyce Johnson about Kerouac's appreciation for books, Gregory Corso about death, David Amram about the mills, and Roger Brunelle on "the life of suffering". Kerouac's own words punctuate the soft carnival. French whispers. Moonlit verses.



The film is like the book Dr. Sax, upon which it's loosely derived, where reality and dream intermingle. It's where children play and older people worship, and where the mind of young Kerouac ambles along city streets and the Merrimack River to take in the subtle insights and moody reflections that would feed his mind into prose and fiction-writing later. It is here, in this film and in places like Lowell, where the heart is born, the world seen, and certain connections made.

This film is fully worth the viewing, several times (and if you can watch it on a big screen, do). Ferrini's photography and filmmaking are breathtaking, not in traditional sequences, but in effects that stumble out unpredictably. In the least, I was expecting a narrated documentary, at the most a new look at Lowell and Kerouac's youth. "Lowell Blues" sliced these expectations apart, and I was happily shocked at the emotions the film brought out. You'll need to have an open mind, concentrate on each moment, and allow it to move you into further appreciation of the words and memories of Kerouac's timelessness.


To order the film, and to find out more about it and other Ferrini works, see the Ferrini Productions website. All stills on this page are used with the permissions of Henry Ferrini.

-Mary Sands
April, 2001